Bagels leading the charge

Before setting off, I had thought that mid-afternoon on a Sunday might be a bit of a risky time to visit It’s Bagels in Primrose Hill, north London. My fears were well founded because we were met with a locked door and hand-written wording on the glasswork stating: “sold out!!”

I’m sure buying a bagel shouldn’t be quite like this. What has happened to the world of buying baked goods that it often requires something bordering on a military campaign to get your hands on the goods? It’s fair to say that since its opening in September 2023, It’s Bagels has been a runaway success. 

It’s Bagels in Primrose Hill

During peak weekend trading, the tiny little unit can sell around 2,500 New York-style bagels. Even on a Monday, it can push out 1,000 of the round chewy delights. Needless to say, owner Dan Martensen is on the lookout for a second site. Such has been his success that he has been joined on the same road by established north London bagel purveyor Roni’s Bagels. “We’ve started something cool. There are bigger things to worry about,” suggests the laid-back Martensen.  

He’s absolutely right, of course, and the bagel is on something of a roll right now. Bagel Factory is set to open eight sites this year as it moves towards its target of operating an estate of 38 outlets by the end of 2025, which includes a number of travel sites. Also in the capital, B Bagel recently opened a fourth unit and has expansion plans on the agenda. Meanwhile, in Nottingham, The Bagel Project has secured a second site.

Each of these follows in the footsteps of the famous pair of Brick Lane stalwarts, Beigel Bake and Beigel Shop, with the latter having been trading since 1855 but recently, sadly, forced to close in a legal/money dispute. Such is its standing that it was reported that a pop-up would be opening in the smart Mondrian hotel in nearby Shoreditch High Street, with a concise menu including some new Andalusian-inspired specials (makes a change from the timeless salt beef and smoked salmon and cream cheese options).

This exultation of a baked product is not confined to bagels. Many small hospitality businesses are finding their produce is perfect for the visual dynamics of Instagram. It’s clearly happening across the whole of the food industry, but bakery is a particularly accessible category and the latest Insta-driven hype can make a business. 

Prior to my lock-out at It’s Bagels, I’d earlier in the day dragged my family to Fortitude Bakehouse near Russell Square tube station. Even before we got close to the extremely compact outlet down a cobbled side street, it was obvious it had a particularly apt name. The queue, which I calculated would have stolen over an hour of my time, and the requisite fortitude was beyond my staying power, and so the famed beignets – “out at 11am until sold out”, the website states – had to be left to Instagram.

Inside Fortitude Bakehouse

Thankfully, this being London, there were other renowned bakeries to visit that had also been given the rocket fuel boost of Instagram. Arôme has its honey butter toast, Chestnut Bakery has its croissant that recently won an award for UK’s best croissant, and the fast-growing Buns at Home has its cinnamon buns. 

Slightly further north, in Angel, is Pophams, which has its bacon and maple syrup Danish pastry. Again, a very small unit that is invariably too packed for me to occasionally pop into for a coffee, and so I have to cycle on past. Even further north in Edinburgh, Lannan Bakery has been anointed by Instagram and its croissants are regularly sold out by 9am.

But it’s not only Instagram that has given the egg wash shininess to the bakery category, because even Lidl is enjoying a boost from its in-store bakery. The overall growth of the discount supermarket has been fuelled by demand for goods in its in-store bakery, where its market share has exploded from 10.2% in January 2023 to 18.2% in March 2024. Introducing bakeries into stores has boosted the frequency of customer visits, and offering occasional free baked goods to its Lidl Plus loyalty app has also worked a treat on driving footfall.

Whatever part of the market hospitality companies operate within, there is surely an opportunity to leverage in some baked goods of some description or other, even if they are peripheral to the core offering. And if it is picked up on Instagram, then it will be more about dealing with the length of the queues than the bake.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.